Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Insensitivity I: Pregnant people

               You would think that anyone who has been pregnant or has known someone who was pregnant would know that there are certain things you just don’t say to a pregnant woman.
                You would think.
                Unfortunately, you’d be wrong, just as I was.
                 In both my first and current pregnancy, I’ve been amazed and astounded at the stupidity that comes out of people’s mouths. While I understand that 99% of these people have no malicious intent, I’m not sure how much of a consolation it is telling myself that they’re just stupid. After all, that means there are a lot of stupid people out there.

                I am more forgiving of men. Men, while they might have survived their wives’ pregnancies, never having experienced it for themselves, can be cut some slack. However, I’ve found that men are less likely to say offensive things than women; men know that walking on eggshells around a pregnant woman is the way to go. Women, especially older women, feel like they can say whatever they want. Probably because they went through it themselves.

                I would like to refute this assumption. They SHOULD NOT say whatever they want. They should keep their mouths tightly, tightly shut.
Here are some of the things I’ve heard throughout both my pregnancies:

                “You’re huge!”

                “Wow, it looks like it’s hard for you to walk.”

                “Are you in your ninth month?” (Not even close.)

                “How are you going to make it through the summer?”

                “What size are you wearing now?”

                “Are you having twins? No? Are you sure?”

I reiterate, the people who say these things are mostly a. older women and b. not ill-intentioned. So what makes them say these things? No idea. 

Don’t they remember what it was like to be pregnant, to feel like a specimen on display, “Here is my growing body for all to see!” Don’t they remember how bad the weight-gain makes you feel, how yes, it is hard to walk but they don’t need to comment on it, they just need to send a nice smile your way? Don’t they remember how it’s sweet when someone asks, “How are you feeling?” not when someone says, “You don’t look so good. How are you feeling?”

Obviously they don’t remember.

             I’m really just waiting for someone to say something to me. It will be the wrong day, the wrong time, the right amount of hormones making me bloated and prone to crying, and I will say: “I’m huge because I’m pregnant. What’s your excuse?” or “I can lose the weight once I give birth. You’re stupid, you’ve got to live with that forever.” I will dish out whatever bile the situation calls for, because I have been being filled up with it for two consecutive years. Woe unto that person.

                And then I will go home and cry, until the hormones clear up and I come back to myself again.

                And when I’m older, I will remember what it was like to be pregnant. And pregnant women around me will reap the benefit of my sensitive silence.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Facebook forums for mothers: helpful or hurtful?

Before I gave birth to my first child, a friend joined me to a Facebook group for mothers living in Jerusalem. It was really helpful before I gave birth – you know, first pregnancy, no shortage of things to worry about, and here I had a forum of experienced/going-through-it-at-the-same time mothers at my beck and call. I asked about stroller comparisons, doula recommendations, whatever worry was on my pregnant mind. While it was comforting to receive almost-immediate answers from a variety of different mothers, it’s only in hindsight that I realized that none of the answers ever made me feel definitively sure about anything.
            A mundane example– I asked about the difference between two strollers. I got all sorts of responses – but the truth is, most of these women don’t live in my neighborhood, where the streets are narrow, some don’t have cars, some don’t care about the fold, some don’t care about the price, etc. So their answers were nice, but weren’t really relevant, and in the end, my husband and I decided by ourselves (we chose the Baby Jogger City Mini and love it. But I digress.)
The point is, I felt good knowing that there was a place I could turn to where all my questions could be answered, or at least acknowledged.

            After birth, however, was a different story. At home on maternity leave, my laptop was my lifeline to the world. And because I hadn’t yet figured out that it’s possible to turn off FB notifications, I was receiving notifications from this group about every five minutes – it’s quite a popular group – and reading every question and comment because that was all I had to do. (Once I realized you could turn off notifications, I availed myself of this option. I've been much happier since.)
            Some of the posts were interesting or good to know. I learned how to make homemade almond milk from one mother. I learned about a sale on diapers from another. But the majority of posts, I couldn’t care less about. Why did one mother post about Matisyahu shaving his beard? Why were there a few mothers who insisted on posting pictures of their babies – no offense, but we all have cute babies, and I much prefer to look at mine than yours. Besides, that’s what regular FB is for. The combination of irrelevant and off-topic posts started to get on my nerves.

            But more than annoying, the group had morphed from a pre-natal comfort into a post-natal worry-creator! 

For example: my husband and I disagreed on sleep-training. He was all for Ferberizing - letting the baby cry in order to fall asleep on her own. I did not want this! So I posted for advice about sleep training on the group, got many responses, mostly falling into these categories: “You’re the mother, you get to decide.” “Crying is awful, don’t do it!” “We let our babies cry, I hated it but it worked.”
All very nice, supportive things to say – but how exactly does that help me resolve the conflict with my husband? My husband, who irritatingly enough, was more experienced than I in the beginning of our crazy parenthood trip from a slew of nieces and nephews, wasn’t pulling ideas from thin air. While my Baby Whisperer book advocated middle-of-the-road methods, he had a book that contradicted everything my book said! (It’s amazing that by chance, we both ended up with books that fit our personalities.)
            In any event, the “support” I received from the mothers in the group didn’t make me feel better; it made me feel worse. So what that I had all these mothers agreeing with me, or telling me it’s okay? It only made me more mad at my husband – and the fact that some mothers did it and it worked didn’t make me feel any better hearing my baby’s cries in the middle of the night. (My husband and I ended up compromising, mostly because my hormones were no match for his arguments or experience, and yet, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open, we did let baby cry for a few minutes – but not full-fledged Ferberizing.)

In short, I quickly realized that my participation in this group was not productive. 

            Not only was it unproductive, it was actually becoming harmful to me. I’m not talking about getting high blood pressure from annoying posts. I'm talking about jealousy-inducing posts, or FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, posts (for more on FOMO: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html). Here are some examples:

 "I used to get up an hour before my baby so I could exercise. Now, my baby started waking up an hour earlier - when am I supposed to find the time to get back into shape?”
            Maybe I’m just a bad person, or maybe you can understand me a little when I say that I spared no sympathy for this woman. Instead, I looked at myself with a critical eye and said, “This woman has been getting up early to exercise every morning to lose her pregnancy weight. If you would get up early, maybe you could lose the weight, fatass.”
            Clearly not productive.

“My five week old slept for eight hours straight! I’m so well-rested!”

            Good for you! I’m about to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks because I haven’t slept in weeks, but I’m SO happy for you!      

            “My baby is so good to me. I flew with her when she was three months old and she only kvetched for about two minutes - I just had to brag!”

            Seriously? I take my baby to the doctor’s office and in minutes the walls of the waiting room are resonating with her wails. I feel really good about myself right now.

            Or, “We’re getting together in the park Wednesday morning. Who’s in?”

            Okay, people are allowed to get together. But the fact is, I’ve been dying of boredom and would love to meet and hang out with other mothers, but I work in the mornings.

Not only are these posts jealousy-inducing, not only do they inflict upon me serious self-loathing, but they make me question the goodness of my character (since I feel like I want to smack the people posting)!
            Still, I know that my feelings about this group are not shared by all. Clearly. Otherwise, the questions and comments that mothers post wouldn’t receive 10-100 comments. By mothers who are obviously nicer, more patient or more sympathetic than me.  
           And all the mothers mean well, even when they post things that can cause jealousy and that I personally find insensitive, annoying or TMI. (“My four month old has had diarrhea for the past three days and has been puking up everything. What should I do???” Call your doctor, genius. “Found dead moth parts in my baby’s mouth yesterday. Eeeeeew. Just had to share.” I really wish you hadn’t. "I think my IUD might be infected!" I'm really sorry for you, but TMI, TMI!)
            And I think that for most of the participating mothers, the group affords them a connection with others. After birth, I thought I was the only woman who experienced loneliness, since it’s not something that people really talk about. But belonging to this group and seeing the ridiculous amount of posts and comments has shown me that it’s not just me – motherhood can be lonely. And I shouldn’t blame these mothers for wanting to connect virtually with each other, since in real life, getting out of the house and meeting up can be difficult. I especially shouldn’t blame them for creating an online community that they seem to enjoy – it’s my own problem that it’s not my particular cup of tea.          
            So why don’t I just leave the group? Since I’ve turned off my FB notifications, I don’t read half the posts – and when I do, I get annoyed, as you see. So instead of complaining about something that hundreds of mothers find useful, why don’t I just ship out?

            Two reasons:

            First of all, because there really are useful posts. And this is what the group is about! Lending support to mothers (“I have to go back to work and am dreading it. How have other mothers dealt with this?”) and providing useful and helpful information (“I think my five month old has bedbugs. What should I do?”).
            The second reason I stay in the group is because: What if…?

            What if my baby is pooping and puking and I can’t reach my doctor? (I’d probably call my mother-in-law.) What if I’m making a Shabbat meal and need a dessert recipe? (Not likely – I love kosher food blogs and trust the ones I know much more than I trust mothers I don’t know.) What if I need to decide on my next stroller (Amazon and Baby Gizmo reviews – love and trust.)
            Okay, it seems like I mostly don’t need it. But what if I do at some point? What if I need moral support when I have a second baby? What if I need advice on how to divide attention between two children? I’m sure I will. What if my baby really does get bedbugs (please God, no!)? And while I have online and in-person resources, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that this group that has grown so irritating, so jealousy and worry-inducing, is there should I need it. And hopefully I will then appreciate it for all its worth. But until that time comes, I don’t plan on turning my FB notifications back on.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Like baby, like mother

           When I came home from the hospital after giving birth, I was struck by the helplessness of the tiny creature nestling in my arms. Completely, utterly helpless. The only two things she knew how to do were suck and cry. Her needs consisted of food, warmth, cleanliness, sleep and love. The most basic, inherent human needs.
            And it was my job to care for her. To comfort her when she cried, to discern an inflection in these cries which would tell me if she was hungry, needed a change, had gas, etc.
            I became physically tired, but also emotionally – it hurt so much to hear my baby cry! Calmer, veteran mothers told me simply, “She’s a baby. Babies cry.” I could not accept that, so I frantically tried to discern what she wanted, keeping bottle, clean diaper, spit-up cloth on hand at all times so I could figure out what the problem was and address it asap! My franticness, though, just made me more and more addled. And the more addled I got, the harder it was for me to fall asleep (when the baby slept, of course. Sleep when the baby sleeps, these veteran mothers said.). And the harder it was for me to fall asleep, the more tired I was, and the more addled I got!
            Oh, the circle of life. It lasted about a month, but it felt like forever. So I had two choices: either calm down, or go crazy. I preferred the second, but my husband strongly supported the first. (Since neither could convince the other, we ended up compromising.)

            It’s only now, that baby is nearing the benchmark of a year, and my wits have somewhat returned, that I look back with twenty-twenty hindsight and realize that besides for taking care of baby, my needs consisted of the following (in priority order):
  1. Sleep
  2. Eat
  3. Communicate with my husband (about the baby)
  4. Shower

Yes, I’m embarrassed to say that shower was last. But hey, clothes aren’t even on the list. In that first month, I really had no other needs, desires or wants besides for these basic, inherent human ones.

Exactly like my baby!

Monday, June 11, 2012

My forgotten friend and me

By now you must know, I don’t have much sympathy for people who get married and fall off the face of the planet. Let’s redefine “planet.” I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to parties every Thursday or Saturday night; I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to Shabbat meals with 20 people – these meals are generally made by singles, and if married people aren’t invited, I can’t hold it against them. I’m not even talking about people who get married and move out of Jerusalem – I can’t expect them to travel in all the time! 

                But I can expect them to pick up the phone. The people who don’t pick up the phone are the ones I have no tolerance for. Those that don’t go out at all, even with small groups of friends or one-on-one, because they feel the need to be home with their spouse every night. People who become completely absorbed in their spouse, so that they make efforts for his or her friends and family, but neglect their own. I understand it might be in the name of shalom bayit, of wanting to please your new partner, hey, maybe it’s even in the name of love. Whatever it is, it’s no excuse. (And might I add, though I’m no psychologist, it seems unhealthy.)

                Where has my passion against these people come from? Obviously, my own experience! Interestingly enough (to me, at least), I wasn’t burned by a married friend when I was single; it happened once I was married myself. And perhaps because I took such efforts to keep in touch with my single friends once I got married, the burn stung so much more.

I was going to use this as an opportunity to vent. To go through the whole sordid story of my friend who got married and dropped off the planet and blahblahblah.

            But I’ve decided to take a different path.

I’ve decided that instead of focusing on the hurt this friend has caused me, should look inwards. I’ve patted myself on the back that after I got married, I maintained contact with my single friends. That I went out at nights despite being tired, made phone calls and Shabbat meals and put forward my strength when I felt that I had no strength left in order to maintain friendships.

But have I really been all that great? Have I really made the efforts I think I did? What about old roommates of mine who I never talk to? Sure, we were never great friends to begin with, but we did live together. We knew the intimacies of each other’s lives the way only roommates do. Have I been in touch with them?

What about my friends in America? The time difference makes it super-difficult for me to call since I’m exhausted at night, and besides, during the day there they are working. So I don’t talk to them as much as I’d like. But maybe I can make more of an effort?
And I, who pride myself on hosting friends for Shabbat meals – can it be that in my two years of marriage, I’ve never left someone out? Never made someone feel bad that I invited him and not her? 

I’m only human. Of course I’ve made mistakes. Of course I’ve hurt people unintentionally. So instead of focusing on the hurt I’ve endured from my forgotten friend, maybe I should focus on being more considerate myself. On not thinking that I’ve got a great handle on prioritizing and I know how to maintain relationships and blahblahblah. The truth is, pregnancy and post-partum adjustment were hard for me; maybe I think I was making monumental efforts to be in touch with friends when in reality, they were minimal efforts but only seemed monumental to me because each phone call and each outing after birth was a personal victory.

But like I said, I’m only human. As humans, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and generally vindicate ourselves in our minds. We blame the other person. And even though I do believe my forgotten friend is in the wrong, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take this opportunity as a wake-up call to examine my own actions.

Did I mention I’m an orthodox Jew? :-) 

If not, I mention it now because what I’m writing might sound like mussar or even dogma, since the idea of examining your actions is pretty popular in orthodox theology. But I think that whether you’re religious or not, it actually makes sense. I can nurse the hurt I feel and let bitterness grow inside of me, or, to be trite, I can take the lemons life has offered me and add some sugar or Splenda, and have lemonade! Of course, easier said than done (especially in this country, where Splenda is scarce). 

But I think it’s worth a try.

By the way, I’m not advocating “turn the other cheek” theology either. I believe in the validity of hurt feelings, and that, if you can’t get over these feelings, confrontation is the way to go. Maybe this is exactly because I’m an orthodox Jew, and the Torah says, “Don’t hold a grudge in your heart.” Of course, the Torah also warns against hurting another person with words, so the words in these confrontations need to carefully thought out. But again – why be consumed by bitterness? You’re the only one who will suffer in the end (I say to myself).

Whether the confrontation works is a different story. In my tale, it didn’t. That’s what made it all the more heartbreaking. That’s why I've been haunted by this question of friendship, what it means, what happens when people grow apart, and so on. That’s also why I’m trying another tack. Trying to use this opportunity to grow as a person. Whether I succeed or not will be a different story.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

LaLa land

In the aftermath of my realization that couples with kids are not welcome at mixed meals – i.e., meals with singles and couples without kids, I am left with a dilemma.

Since I’ve been married (about two years), I’ve invested a lot of time in my single friends. Pushing myself to go out in the evenings when tired (pregnant and tired I mean. I've been pregnant for 16 out of the past 22 months), inviting them for Shabbat meals (which is really no effort, but it entails a decision to be conscious and aware when planning my week), phoning to say when I'd be in their neighborhood for Shabbat (by my in-laws) and planning to meet up - you get the idea.

But after having been "dissed" by one of our regular Shabbat guests, who made a meal, invited many of our friends but neglected to invite us, a slow, creeping fear arose in my mind.

Have I been investing in friends who don’t want to be invested in? 

Let me explain. I’ve taken pride in the fact that I’ve kept in touch with most of my single friends; but maybe this pride is just foolishness. Maybe I’ve been foisting myself upon these friends against their will! What else can explain the one-sidedness that I’ve realized, upon deeper contemplation, exists in many of my friendships? The one-sidedness of me making phone calls, initiating conversations, creating “excuses” to hang out while not experiencing the same in return?

Let me explain further. While I was insulted by my friend’s exclusive Shabbat meal, I generally don’t expect return meal invites. I’m not in the business of inviting friends for Shabbat so I can get a free meal back. As I mentioned in my previous post, we invite a lot of people over who we know will never invite us back. Why not? It's not because we're not pleasant (at least I don't think so). No, mostly it's because our guests are yeshiva boys, or people who don't have much money, or friends with roommates and small apartments who rarely, if ever, host. When we invite friends from other neighborhoods and they do invite us back, we usually can't go because it's too far for me to walk (remember, pregnant pregnant pregnant!)       

So when I say that I don’t get the same return from these friends, I'm not talking about meals. I'm not talking about birthday or baby presents. I'm talking about effort. I'm talking about being the one to initiate something; a phone call, a Facebook message, an invite to hang out or to come over on Shabbat - not for a meal, but just to hang out.     

In the past, I was never insulted at being the initiator - I've been on the other side, the single side, the side where you think to yourself, "It's her (insert name of married friend) job to call me; she needs to prove that she hasn't fallen off the face of the planet. I'm the same me, it's her that's different." So I took it upon myself to initiate, and didn't think twice about it, until now.

I mean, it's been two years! Shouldn't my friends have gotten the hint by now that I haven't disappeared, that I still like hanging out with them, that I'm still the same me?

And I worry. If they don't understand by now, will they ever? Or will they continue to make Shabbat meals and not invite me (and my husband)? While my husband is in parenthesis, he should probably be bolded and highlighted. He's the reason for this, after all. Him and my baby girl. (Please read sarcasm. I obviously wouldn't give up my husband or daughter for all the friends in the world.)

My conclusion must be, I suppose, that I'm living in LaLa Land

Of course I've changed in the eyes of my single friends. I have a husband and a kid, with another on the way! So even though I feel like the same me, to outside eyes, I'm in a different world. And let’s be honest – even though I might feel like the same me, I don’t do the same things I used to do. While during my first pregnancy I made plans to go out on Thursday or Saturday nights, for drinks (Diet Coke for me), to movies, to parties – now that I’m a mother and pregnant, I'm usually home at nights. Sure, I make an effort for birthdays or special occasions, and I try to supplement my evening absences with phone calls, but that’s not the same (especially since I'm not much of a phone person). I’m not the friend who they can call to be a “wingman” or to go see the latest movie. And sure, I try to make plans during afternoons or on Shabbat, but most people work in the afternoons, and are not always home for Shabbat. My schedule often isn’t in sync with those of my friends. And out of sight, out of mind. Why should these friends make more than the occasional effort to adjust to my schedule?

The answer is obvious: that’s what friends do, they make efforts for each other. And since that’s not my experience, I’m forced to say that either a. We were never such great friends to begin with or b. That’s life, and people grow apart.

I can work on accepting either of the two. But it’s this clincher that kills me; the realization that in all likelihood, they'd like to let these friendships fade and I'm stubbornly holding onto something that they just want to release. That maybe, we have nothing in common anymore. Maybe I should let go. Give up gracefully. Maybe I've been so busy trying to hold on to these friendships, that I've missed the writing on the wall - the writing that says they're just not that into me. Our friendship had a nice run, now it’s time to move on.


Or maybe I've just experienced a few consecutive discouragements, but shouldn't let them get me down. Maybe I should keep on trying.